Guest worker plan cut back
Steve Lewis: The Advertiser | August 09, 2008
KEVIN Rudd has dramatically scaled back plans for a controversial Pacific “guest-worker” scheme amid concerns of a community backlash.
The Coalition has already raised concerns over the radical immigration plan which would allow islanders to work in rural communities for up to seven months.
But with unemployment on the rise, the Rudd Government has halved the number of participants to just 2500 over three years.
Only three countries – Tonga, Kiribati and Vanuatu – will be involved in the pilot scheme, although the Government is keen to sign up Papua New Guinea.
Senior Government sources last night confirmed Cabinet had adopted a “safety first” approach, following concerns it could trigger a backlash from “Pauline Hanson-type forces”. The Prime Minister will announce the scheme in the next few weeks ahead of a meeting on August 19 with Pacific leaders on the tiny island of Niue.
It is expected to get off the ground later this year, although the Government may hold back until 2009.
Islanders will be granted special visas of up to seven months, paid award wages and allowed to work in areas where labour shortages are most acute. This is likely to include areas of northern Victoria, southern NSW and northern Queensland.
New Zealand has been trialling a similar guest-worker scheme this year, although it has around 5000 temporary workers from five Pacific nations.
The Coalition is warning that even a small number of Pacific islanders on these special visas could displace domestic labour.
“Does Australia want unskilled labour coming in from a number of Pacific islands given there are half a million unemployed in Australia already, and a projection (of) a further 134,000 unemployed people?” Opposition foreign affairs spokesman Andrew Robb said.
The Coalition is demanding the Government release details of the scheme and warns that it will become a permanent feature of the country’s immigration program.
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KRudd may have temporarily scaled back his plans for importing unskilled coolies from the Pacific Islands, but this is not a setback for him at all. It is now the turn of his propaganda team to whip all the true believers of multiculturalism into a frenzy of teeth gnashing and snarling at the the little Aussie battler, accusing him of racism at every turn, when all he or she wants to do is protect his livelihood and keep some food on the table.